DFL-allied Hennepin County commissioner steps down to lead affordable housing developer

Chris LaTondresse voted two years ago to fund an $18M apartment project for the non-profit he will now run as CEO; a special election to fill his seat is slated for March.

Chris LaTondresse voted two years ago to fund an $18M apartment project for the non-profit he will now run as CEO; a special election to fill his seat is slated for March. (Hennepin County)

One of the first major actions Chris LaTondresse took as a newly-elected member of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners in the spring of 2021 was to sign off on a multi-million dollar affordable housing grant program. One of the beneficiaries of that was St. Paul-based Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative.

Two years later, in May of 2023, LaTondresse and his fellow commissioners picked up shovels and posed for photos at a ceremonial ground-breaking in downtown Hopkins for the Vista 44 apartment project being developed by St. Paul-based Beacon.

Just three months later in August, LaTondresse announced he was resigning from the Hennepin County Board with one year left in his term to become the new president and CEO for Beacon. The salary of his predecessor, Lee Blons, was $189,000 in 2022, according to tax filings. His last official day on the Hennepin County Board is Sept. 21. He’ll start with Beacon next month.

In an interview with Alpha News, LaTondresse, a Hopkins native — who once served as an advisor to the “Feed the Future” program (no relation to the Feeding Our Future scandal) in the federal government’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives during the Obama administration — said he didn’t seek out the new career opportunity. He said Beacon approached him about the CEO position this spring. He interviewed with Beacon for the position in May and accepted their offer to become its CEO in July. He contended the perceived appearance of a conflict of interest was not the reason he decided to step down.

“It was just a matter of timing,” LaTondresse said in an interview last week with Alpha News. “I felt like it was important for me to step down to create an opportunity for someone else to serve in what really is a full-time role. I couldn’t have waited a year to start the job (or step away from the county board).”

During the May groundbreaking ceremony at the downtown Hopkins project, LaTondresse spoke to the impact the 50-unit apartment project will have to address homelessness in Hennepin County, and in his own hometown, which has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Families who make less than $30,000 a year will be eligible tenants.

“ … in my capacity as a commissioner it’s been such an honor to collaborate with mission-driven developers like Beacon … to steer these investments toward deeply affordable and supportive housing — including millions in Hennepin funding to Beacon projects,” LaTondresse said at the time. “In fact, at $5.2 million, Vista 44 represents one of the larger investments Hennepin County has ever made in a single project in recent memory.”

New sales tax represents a windfall of new revenue for Twin Cities affordable housing

When he steps into his new role next month, LaTondresse will oversee the organization that takes credit for development of more than 700 units of housing across 21 buildings throughout the Twin Cities, valued at more than $113 million. It has another $86 million in affordable housing projects in the pipeline, including the $18.7 million Vista 44.

Beacon’s portfolio of nearly $200 million invested in affordable housing projects comes at a time when a number of other affordable housing developers like Beacon are expected to come into a windfall of new monetary resources from a metro-wide affordable housing sales tax that will go into effect on Oct. 1. The 0.25 cent sales tax was passed as part of a $1 billion housing bill passed at the legislature this spring. The tax, which will impact sales in the seven-county metro, is estimated to generate more than $300 million over the next two years, meaning there may be no better time to lead an organization like Beacon.

“[The new sales tax] is absolutely a massive historic investment in affordable housing,” LaTondresse said. “It’s the first time this state has ever created a dedicated funding mechanism for affordable housing.”

Departure triggers special election in what could be a competitive seat

LaTondresse’s decision to resign as commissioner has triggered a special election in March for the officially non-partisan seat that was hotly contested in 2020. His term was set to expire at the end of 2024. The DFL-backed candidate defeated opponent Dario Anselmo (a former Republican legislator from Edina) by 5 percentage points in that election. The seat represents Edina, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Deephaven, Excelsior, Greenwood, Long Lake, Minnetonka Beach, Mound, Orono, Shorewood, Spring Park, Tonka Bay, Woodland, and Wayzata.

Anselmo, who describes himself politically as more of a “purple,” fiscally responsible independent than “red” or “blue,” said he’s considering running for the soon-to-be vacant seat.

Whether any others — either independent or allied with Republicans or Democrats — will step into to run for the seat remains to be seen. The county announced earlier this month that candidates interested in running for the District 6 seat on the board can begin filing for office on Jan. 30. If more than two candidates file, a non-partisan primary will be held on March 26. An election for the two finalists is scheduled for April 9.

LaTondresse’s former campaign manager, Jen Westmoreland (formerly Jen Bouchard), is rumored by many to be considering a run. She was LaTondresse’s campaign chair in 2020 and served with him on the Hopkins School Board. She’s also the domestic partner of  Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty.

During his 2020 campaign, LaTondresse raised more than $85,000 in donations, several from DFL and labor union-related entities and individual donors. He also used Democrat-sponsored donation tools like ActBlue. Several highly visible DFLers like Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan supported his campaign. Flanagan’s husband, former journalist Tom Weber, consulted for his campaign.

Last month Flanagan praised Beacon’s hire of LaTondresse, saying during his tenure on the Hennepin County Board, he was “a powerful advocate for deeply affordable and supportive housing, and has been an incredible partner in expanding housing opportunities for Minnesota families.”


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.